Mayor Lori Lightfoot will ask Chicago councilors to vote on a $ 16.4 billion budget for 2023 – her last chance to present the city’s spending plan before facing voters next February.
In view of the ongoing election season, the Lightfoot administration designed its budget to be as less controversial as possible, although it wouldn’t be Lightfoot’s initiative without a few fights. As part of his budget, Lightfoot has faced criticism for pushing through a measure that would give the next mayor an automatic annual increase linked to inflation, although the mayor may opt out of a wage increase.
Lightfoot has also faced rejection from councilors who are upset by her decision not to create the Department of the Environment, despite campaigning vigorously on the idea in 2019. She advertised budget money for a much smaller Climate and Environmental Equality Bureau, employing less than a dozen positions.
Ahead of Monday’s vote, Lightfoot also made an appearance on the radio and blew up City Council member Southwest Side Ald. Matt O’Shea for not supporting her budget and questioning his support for law enforcement. For his part, O’Shea bristled at the thought that she wasn’t supporting the police and fired back that her spending plan wasn’t doing enough to stop cops from retiring at exorbitant rates.
Still, negotiations for this budget season are clearly muted compared to those of previous years, when some of Lightfoot’s most controversial fights with councilors broke out. In 2020, Black Caucus said, “Don’t come to me for …” if they didn’t support her budget. This year, Lightfoot took a less openly combative tone and even backed out of the initially proposed real estate tax hike. Its administration announced that this year’s revenues would be $ 134 million above expectations, negating the need for a property tax hike – although a political convention urging politicians to avoid higher taxes in election years probably played a role as well.
Another element of Lightfoot’s budget that came under scrutiny by councilors was to lower the maximum amount of fines for vehicles that block cycle paths or contain tinted windows or obscured license plates from $ 500 to $ 250. A representative from the city’s Legal Department explained that an Illinois appellate court decision earlier this year mandated a lower limit and only an amendment to the statute by the General Assembly could change that.
Councilors have criticized the Lightfoot administration for failing to address an issue that they believe will harm public safety and the city’s finances.
Outgoing Ald. Leslie Hairston, the fifth, blamed the mayor’s office for not using Springfield lobbyists, which took the City Council by surprise.
“There was a total communication failure,” Hairston said. “We’re sitting here in the dark about everything. Our representatives did not communicate with us. “
In terms of policing, the mayor’s budget plan tries to reflect its ethos that a strong police department combined with street coverage and other holistic programming is the solution to persistent gun violence in the city. Shootings and killings have declined this year from the worst in the decades of 2021, but are still higher than before Lightfoot took office.
One of the more striking goals of Lightfoot’s budget is to spend $ 242 million in additional contributions to all four city pension funds, which the mayor likened to ending the practice of paying only the minimum monthly minimum on a credit card. Officials said it would save $ 2 billion in future premiums, provided current market performance continues
Overall, pension payments would cost $ 2.7 billion in the 2023 budget, compared to $ 2.3 billion last year. Lightfoot said better financial planning and cash flow management led the city to increase its annual pension contributions by $ 1 billion over three years and cut debt by $ 377 million.
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